The Limelight: Keystone’s Seth Karlsrud
It’s safe to say Seth Karlsrud is a student of snowboarding. It’s also safe to say he’s a fast learner, a Minnesota-bred park rider who learns best by simply doing the damn thing.
Look at his first attempt to land a triple cork (aka a backside 1080 with three off-axis inversions). It happened a few weeks ago when he was riding Park Lane at Breckenridge. The jump line there is second only to his adopted home mountain: Keystone’s A51, where he and his close friend of two decades, Kyle Klassen, have spent countless hours over the past seven seasons filming each other for DIY park edits. The two have no sponsors and no industry backing, other than a nod from guys like Torstein Horgmo and Halldór Helgason, two big-name pros with big-time budgets who recognize the raw talent in the hometown duo. But it doesn’t much matter. Karlsrud and Klassen do it for them.
“It’s the atmosphere, you know?” Karlsrud told me about his ties to Keystone. “We started here seven years ago and haven’t left. It’s like a little community, with all my friends riding there. It’s nothing but good vibes all the time. You can’t beat it.”
Back to Park Lane: On that fateful day a few weeks ago, he hit the final kicker and went a little bigger than he expected. Actually, a lot bigger, as in big enough to maybe try a triple for the first time ever. The 27-year-old former football and baseball player has been throwing double corks for three years now, and so he knows a thing or two about air sense. He tends to find his feet, and, by now, he can nearly land a double in his sleep.
“I’ve had pretty good air awareness for most of my life,” he said. “I’ve just been watching a lot of triples to see how those guys do it, see where they end up.”
So, when he hit jump six thinking double and realized he’d have way more time in the air than normal, it was a no brainer: time to try for the triple.
“For me, you’re not planning it all day,” he said. “I just took a dub a little too big and decided, ‘Well, no better time than now.’”
And so he went for it. There was no preparation, no expectations, just see what happens. No one is lucky enough to land a trick that big on the first try — not Horgmo, not Helgason, not fellow pros Eric Willett or even spin master Mark McMorris — and Karlsrud is no different. He opened up just a bit too early and “went down hard,” he remembered.
“But just the feeling of what to do is coming to me,” he said after a brief pause, maybe thinking of the broken ribs he suffered learning doubles, or maybe not. “It was sick, dude.”
By the time the snow melts, Karslrud is convinced he’ll land the first triple of his life. It might happen this weekend at Breckenridge before the mountain closes for the season, or it might happen later this May on his favorite hike-to terrain at Loveland Pass. Either way, the student in him just wants to learn and perfect a dizzying trick that only a handful of snowboarders (pro and amateur alike) have even attempted, let alone mastered.
“Oh god, that triple is such a tug-of-war battle with the emotion,” he told me after recounting the story of his near-miss in Breck. “You’re scared — it’s a good nervous — but, basically, if my friends and I believe I can do it, it can happen.”
Community college to the streets
It’s how Karlsrud has always approached snowboarding: First do it, then do it well. At 10 years old, not long after he first strapped to a board, he spent hours outside in cold, flat Minnesota trying to land a backside 360.
“I was out there all day and just couldn’t get it,” he said. “But I knew that one day I would. I loved the feeling of being in the air.”
And? How long did it take to learn a 360?
“I landed that backside three the next day,” he said, a touch of pride still in his voice. (In case math isn’t your strong suit, the triple cork he’s now working on is three 360s in a row, plus three inversions.)
For a while, Karlsrud thought his future was in football or baseball. He spent two years on the football team at Rochester Community College in Rochester, Minnesota — “I was looking for a full ride, so I didn’t have to pay for school,” he said — but when an athletic scholarship didn’t pan out, he packed his bags at 20 years old and came straight to Colorado.
“It’s when I truly, truly had a deep love for this sport,” he said of the move from the Midwest to Summit County. “I just figured, ‘Well, this is what I’m doing now.’ … I might not be sponsored or anything, but this is it, this is a lifestyle. It’s what I do.”
The snowboard lifestyle isn’t always easy to maintain. This season, Karlsrud and crew knew it was time to leave the comforts of A51 and film on urban rails and drops. Things started well enough, but, by the time Denver was blanketed with two feet of late-March snow, they were sick of each other. And sick of filming. And sick of the grind.
“I was just trying to get the street game dialed in, and it wasn’t happening,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, and everyone has to keep going to make the final product. Teamwork makes the dream work, you know?”
By now, Karlsrud and the rest have made peace with each other, filming locally in the early April blizzard. His street tricks aren’t quite where he wants them, but he’ll keep learning, over and over, fall after fall, until they’re perfect.
“This was the first year I was really hitting the streets, so I don’t have a good grasp of what my style is like out there,” he said. “You get to pick your own features, make whatever you want possible, so I’m just worried about landing some sweet tricks for now. It’s nothing super special — hopefully one day it will be — but, for now, it’s just getting out there.”
Once he does find something special, where will it lead him? I wondered. A video part? Sponsors? Social media fame?
“I don’t know, man. That’s a good question,” he said. “I guess I would love to do nothing but snowboard, but life isn’t cheap, and not everyone is fortunate enough to do that. I just want to find people who can show me good things, get better, rip for as long as I can. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s mine for right now.”
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